I went to the capitol in Austin with several other county judges to support a senate bill (SB 1554) sponsored by Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr. of Brownsville to establish a state funded Community Development Block Grant program where smaller counties and towns could apply for grants to help fund developmental and infrastructure projects such as water and sewer system work, projects related to economic development, and the like.
A federal CDBG program has been in existence for over 40 years through the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
Local governments are usually required to provide matching funds in order to qualify, but these grants have been one of the more useful programs as far as helping us with our local needs, in my opinion much more in line with the kind of help we need locally than the myriad of social welfare programs that are constantly coming down from above.
Yet, the federal version of the CDBG has shrunk to almost nothing (relatively speaking) while the welfare money continues to flow seemingly unchecked.
So Senator Lucio came up with this proposal to keep the CDBG program alive in the state of Texas so that small towns and counties can continue to get help for much needed infrastructure projects to help replace utilities, rural communications and transportation systems, and the like.
These grants would be admin- istered through the Department of Agriculture of Texas and we were told would require little additional administrative systems and procedure to be put into place since CDBG grants have been in existence for many years.
Also since these would be funded by the state, most of the usual federal red tape would be eliminated which would be another good thing for us at the local level.
While we were there, Senator Lucio set up a meeting with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst at which I along with the other county judges were able to speak with him personally, and were able to gain his support for the passage of the bill.
Lt. Gov. Dewhurst asked us to give him some specific examples of projects that we could use some help on if such a fund were made available.
I mentioned such things as replacement of worn out water and sewer lines and equipment in our towns, extension of rural water lines, county road improvements, alternate water supplies for our towns, rail spurs for future industrial sites, and rural high speed internet service.
The amount of such grants at the state level may be limited in amount depending on the funding level, maybe as low as $200,000. However, small towns and counties can do a lot of needed projects with this level of assistance.
Besides helping local governments with much needed projects, the federal CDBG contributed an average of some 150,000 jobs and 13 billion dollars annually to the US economy from 2003 to 2008 before the cuts began. In my opinion, these are the kinds of grant programs our government needs to be funding with our tax dollars. This puts people to work building and replacing infrastructure rather than waiting for their next welfare check.